Growth and Development
In March 2016 the US Census Bureau reported that Beaufort County is one of the 20 fastest growing areas in the nation. A significant part of that growth is occurring along the Sea Island Corridor. With population growth comes an expected increase in residential development, and a corresponding increase in non-residential development for use by retail, office and other commercial enterprises. Growth and development pressure will increase.
The Coalition’s intents are:
- to foster an environment for smart and responsible development by monitoring initiatives as they go before government,
- participate with government in decision-making as a representative of the community, and
- motivate members of the public to be engaged in the process.
There are many moving parts involved with growth and development issues. Whether it is a matter addressed in the regional plan, local development codes, concerns with zoning, annexation/acquisition of land, planning and design, approvals from the county or city or final construction concerns, the Coalition is committed to providing a responsible community voice.
Developers do what is economic. City and County planners work with what is permissible. It is up to the users, the public – and organizations such as the Sea Island Coalition – to define and defend desireability. If not us, then whom?
Zoning and Annexation
The Sea Island Corridor Coalition is primarily concerned with the “lands and waters” east of Beaufort including Lady’s Island, St. Helena Island, Harbor Island and Fripp Island.
The majority of this area is zoned under Beaufort County zoning guidelines. However, the 2007 Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan (updated every five years) established Growth Boundaries for the City of Beaufort within these confines, anticipating the land inside the boundary will ultimately annex into the City of Beaufort.
The City has already annexed or is in the process of annexing much of commercial property within their growth boundary, most of it along the spine of the Sea Island Corridor. Annexation benefits the commercial property owner by expanding public services, and benefits the City by expanding revenues from fees and taxes. Local residents, however, often fail to share in benefits, and are confronted with higher traffic levels and increased commercial density which detract from neighborhood livability.
Notably, all this annexation moves forward without any political accountability since Beaufort County residents cannot vote in Beaufort City elections.
Annexation should promote long term economic health of the community, allow for reasonable growth and mitigate impacts on traffic, stormwater management and the environment. To be effective in this setting, decisions need to be coordinated, not unilateral. A key goal of the Sea Island Coalition is to introduce a public voice to these considerations.
Safe and suitable roads are critical to the continued economic health and livability of the Sea Islands Corridor.
A central goal of the Coalition is to ensure that new growth and development are located and designed to have the least possible impact on traffic flow. Walmart, Harris Teeter and other commercial projects are planned for the Corridor, and have been approved without adequate attention to current road infrastructure, already insufficient to support existing zoning much less forecast growth. Somewhat after the fact, most governmental authorities have recognized that the current road system is inadequate, and that pressures on it are increasing.
In late July 2016, the City of Beaufort and Beaufort County agreed to fund a new traffic study for the Corridor, a move which the Coalition supports. But studies are not solutions, and perfect solutions in island environments are hard to come by. The greatest challenges will be finding a long-term plan on which all parties agree, one that does not further attract or speed commercial and residential development, and obtaining and committing the significant capital investment required.
On Feb. 16, a public information meeting was held by the City at Lady’s Island Middle School to announce results and preliminary recommendations. Consistent with the Coalition’s position, the study recommended construction of no major roadways or significant widening project on existing roads, and instead focused on “interconnectivity,” fixes that would route traffic around the central traffic problem, the intersection of Sea Island Parkway & Sam’s Point Road. These improvements, when in place, are forecast to be effective through 2038 given current traffic and growth projections.
The City’s Feb. 16 presentation and conceptual representations can be found here. Subsequently, of course, acceptance of the report and approvals for the recommendations must be hammered out between the City and County.
So, challenges remain. Currently, there are no funds available to pay for the report’s recommendations. To the extent implementation is funded by property development along the affected routes, it will be many years before some projects are completed. None of this should be unexpected; building transportation infrastructure, especially when it has been overwhelmed by development decisions, is a long-term process.
The Sea Island Corridor Coalition intends to be a continuing participant in discussions and developments moving forward.
Tree and Marsh Preservation
Beaufort County’s natural environment is particularly vulnerable to the impact of development. And one of the primary missions of the Sea Island Corridor Coalition is to ensure that future growth and development will not negatively impact the look, feel and livability of the Sea Islands Corridor.
Protecting natural resources in the Lowcountry is a significant challenge. It’s not just trees, forests and wildlife habitats, but includes salt marshes, the marsh islands, coastal waters and marine resources and beaches, dunes and freshwater wetlands.
If not managed properly, the rapid pace of growth in the Corridor will have grave consequences. People do not move to the Sea Islands because of its commercialism, but because of its unique look, feel and livability. Protecting this is central to the Coalition’s mission.
Political accountability is the process of holding elected officials and civil servants accountable for decisions affecting their constituents. It is an essential part of good governance.
Honest and efficient government is generally enhanced where true political accountability exists: a combination of regular, fair elections and an informed electorate. A central goal of the Sea Island Coalition is to help citizens get and stay informed on development decisions being made that affect the Sea Island Corridor, whether by elected officials or by city/county staff.
Elected officials contribute to accountability when they advocate for authentic transparency in government decision-making. City and county staff contribute to accountability when they reflect this same transparency, and champion processes that authentically engage community participation in development decision-making at every level.
The Sea Island Corridor Coalition recognizes the need for economic development in Beaufort County, and recognizes that communities must change. Our goal in these processes is to help decision-makers make smart development decisions, back them up when they do, and let the community know when they don’t.